There’s bad news, and good news

The bad news is that our household has fallen victim to the dreaded flu. I’ve been in bed for the last 5 days, with a racking cough, roaring fever, painful bones and joints and an occasional hallucination. Really horrid. Yesterday it caught up with TOH, so we are both a pitiful sight and sound. I’ve been wobbling myself downstairs once a day to deal with anything urgent before wobbling back up again.

The dogs have been wonderful, happy to act as nursemaids, curled up on the bed and asking for nothing more than their meals. Until yesterday TOH was managing to walk them, but neither of us have the strength at the moment.

The good news concerns our photographic safari to Kenya later this year.

AsYouLikeIt Safaris is an Editor’s Choice on the prestigious Dunhill Best Travel Deals site.  Having spent many long hours comparing deals before choosing AsYouLikeIt for our safari, I think that confirms we have made the best and wisest choice,

Now I retire once more to my nest, sharing a large faux-fur throw with Tally, to cough and dream of Kenyan sunshine and wildlife. How long does flu last? Surely five days is long enough?

Fearless in the face of attack

A group of members from our camera club went to the Angoulême comic strip festival last month. I hadn’t been for many years, and remembered it as a splendid event for street photography, with huge vibrant cartoons painted on the walls throughout the old part of the town.

Sadly it is no longer like that. Instead you had to queue and pay to see the exhibits housed in numerous long marquees – no good for our project, and it was a dull, drizzly day. Nevertheless we enjoyed ourselves because we are a group who get on very well together socially. The club welcomes enthusiasts of all levels, is supportive, lively, friendly and non-competitive – no monthly award for the ‘best photo’.

We made the best of the conditions and each of us came home satisfied with at least a few shots.

Here’s a book cover illustrating the fearless Englishman, armed only with a rifle, facing a terrifying attack by a spear-wielding savage

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I would have loved to know something about this rather medieval-looking gentleman.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Georges Remi, known as Hergé, creator of Tintin

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It sounded interesting, especially the ‘cosy’ bit, because it was rather chilly wandering around. However, we never found this exhibition.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

One of the few great murals on the walls of the city, La Fille des Remparts.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The Simpsons added a welcome splash of colour

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The tattooist …. any suggestions for a caption?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

download

Book review: Msomi and Me

This title was recommended to me by several friends, all ex-Kenyans like myself. I’d love it, they said.

I resisted. Why? Because I won’t read or watch anything involving animal suffering, and all too often memoirs set in the African bush contain graphic and distressing descriptions of nature red in tooth and claw, or man’s insane drive to kill anything that moves, the bigger the better.

Growing up in Kenya I saw nature at its bloodiest. Seeing a kill in a game park was regarded as the highlight of any trip. I know how it happens and accept that it is part of nature and the need for survival. I just don’t want to see or read it about any more.

After a friend finally convinced me, promising there was nothing unpleasant in this memoir, I read it from beginning to end in one evening.

Brian Connell waves farewell to his engineering consultancy to follow a dream combining his two passions, photography and African wildlife. He buys a derelict bush camp in southern Africa to develop and use to run photographic wildlife workshops.

Hardly has he set foot on the land when an elderly African gentleman arrives and virtually takes over. Brian doesn’t even need to think what he is going to call the camp, because Msomi decides that for him. “Nokuthula,” meaning ‘place of peace.’

With Msomi’s help – or perhaps more accurately under his direction – the camp takes shape and soon becomes a flourishing business, welcoming a diversity of clients including a successful rock band.

The book is a collection of anecdotes about life at Nokuthula over seven years, about the staff, the guests, the wildlife, the country, and most of all, about Msomi with his outspoken views and African wisdom. The author’s love of everything African flows from the pages. I found myself with an almost permanent smile on my face as he shares the often cantankerous attitude of his self-appointed guru, the beauty of the landscape and the magic and majesty of the animals – especially Khankhanya, the rescued cheetah.

wpe0b9e121_06

Khankhanya, the rescued cheetah with a sense of humour. © Brian Connell

My friends were right. I LOVED this book. While there is no animal suffering, there is human tragedy on a monumental scale. Perhaps there’s something wrong with me that I can read about that.

The writing is beautiful, the photographs delightful, it’s a story to warm your heart and crack it too.  Unhesitatingly five stars.

Brian Connell campaigns passionately on behalf of African wildlife.

You can find him on Facebook and Twitter and on his website.

Msomi and Me is currently on offer during February at £1.42 as a Kindle download.

Book review: Cutting for Stone

So much for the plan to review some books ‘over the next couple of weeks.’ The last-minute chance for a rare trip to England interfered with that, but now I’m back and beginning to catch up with myself.

Again on the theme of Africa, Cutting for Stone is a VERY BIG book, set in Ethiopia during political turmoil under the reign of diminutive but powerful Haile Selassie, Emperor of Ethiopia, Lion of Judah, revered as their god by Rastafarians and commonly known in Kenya at the time, irreverently, but affectionately, as Highly Delighted. :)

12604_Haile-Selassie

Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia

However, the emperor plays a minor part in the story. The main character is Marion Stone, one of twin boys born at a mission hospital to a nun and fathered by a doctor. Their mother dies in childbirth, and their father vanishes, leaving the boys to be raised by two Indian doctors. Both boys will grow up to become surgeons. Marion is a serious and studious boy, while his brother Shiva is a blithe hedonist.

Covering twenty-five years, it is a story of love in many forms. Forbidden love; brotherly love; lost love and parental love. It is also a tale of patriotism, treachery of the worst kind, and of redemption.

The author, Abraham Verghese is a doctor born in Ethiopia, who knows his subjects well and writes fluently and gracefully. All his characters are convincing and I soon forgot they were fictional as they drew me into their lives. Telling his story in the first person, Marion’s world is ripped apart as a teenager by a dual act of betrayal by two people he loves, which will have terrible repercussions over the next ten years.

There are numerous passages describing medical treatments and complex surgery, and I admit that I skipped through these and felt that they were often superfluous to the story. However, to anybody in the medical profession I imagine they would make interesting and informative reading.

At 600 pages – I read it on my Kindle so it wasn’t heavy :) – the narrative IS slow and in the beginning I struggled to keep going, but I am so glad that I did because once hooked I found it a riveting read. Marion’s story is punctuated by cruel twists and sickening shocks, with a satisfying ending despite the fact that there is much tragedy along the way. I’m not going to give anything more away, but would recommend this as a work of fiction worthy of all the accolades it has received.

download

I hesitated between 4 and 5 stars. As a beautifully-written and compelling saga I feel it well deserves 5 stars. On the other I didn’t enjoy the detailed and lengthy medical passages and was tempted to deduct a star because of that. But then again it was simple enough to skip through them without detracting from the narrative, so it’s 5 stars from me.

How often do you use algebra?

A friend sent me this today, reminding me that so much of enforced education is pointless.

algebra

Our history syllabus was “The Spanish Conquest of the Americas.”

Geography concentrated around the Orinoco Basin and deltas somewhere or other. We traced maps.

Nothing actually happened in chemistry lessons. Nothing went ‘bang’ or lit up in colours. Lessons consisted of trying to learn the chemical symbols for elements.

I was never able to understand what physics did.

I couldn’t sing.

I couldn’t draw, paint, sculpt or embroider.

I wasn’t any good at gym.

Maths, geometry, algebra, trigonometry were all double-Dutch.

I didn’t believe in religion.

Week after week, term after term, for 11 years I sat, with my classmates, glassy-eyed, bored, bewildered, and I was not alone. Many of us read comics on our laps while glancing at our watches every two minutes to see whether it was time for the bell that would signal escape from one set of metaphorical handcuffs so we could trundle down a corridor into another punishment block classroom. The whole thing seemed designed around control rather than personal growth and development. No talking in the dining room; no walking on the grass; no running; no hands in pockets; no taking your hat off in the street. Why? Why wasn’t it fun instead?

There were two classes that inspired me. English and French. I was good at both and would have happily studied languages all day, every day, in preference to any other subjects.

I have never since used algebra or geometry, nor have I ever needed or wanted to know about the Orinoco basin, what causes light refraction, why the Spanish needed to conquer the South American natives. I’ve never needed to balance on a narrow bar two feet off the ground, vault over a wooden horse, dangle by my heels from terrifyingly high wall bars or play a recorder. Nevertheless, all those things were compulsory.

In short, apart from English and French, the whole thing was a wicked waste of time, for which I point the finger firstly at the system, and secondly at teachers who were blantatly as disinterested as their pupils, reading in a monotone from books clearly written for the treatment of insomnia. I’ve often wondered why the system isn’t geared to let children channel their energies at an early age into those subjects that do appeal to them, in order that their education can be tailored to inspiring them so that lessons become a pleasure rather than a chore, and when they leave school, they will be equipped and motivated to follow a career.

No offence intended to those teachers I know face a difficult and often thankless task into which they put their hearts, souls, passion and many unpaid hours.  At least two of my friends are teachers and I know they love their work and imagine that a class with them is a treat for their pupils. If only they’d been around when I needed them.

I will never use algebra.

Resilience – your name is Anna Murray

I’ve been reading some books written about and by people who have lived in Africa, and over the next couple of weeks I’d like to share my thoughts about some of these and their authors.

The first title is “Born on Friday 13th” by Anna Murray.

While her childhood was spent in Kenya, that is incidental to her story, which centres on the loss of her only child, Anthony.

Anna was born in East Africa on Friday 13th. The death of her father at a young age left her mother to raise her children single-handed, which she did by sheer hard work, and in some ways Anna’s youth was privileged, growing up in a beautiful country and riding to school on her pony. But when her mother died, Anna had to leave for further education in England, in the care of her aunt. She studied catering, which was going to stand her in good stead later in life.

Without parental support and guidance, she became involved in a relationship with a dubious character who was wanted by the police, and went on the run with him, while expecting a child. The relationship did not survive, but gave her a beautiful blond son, also born on Friday 13th. Like her own mother, she devoted every ounce of energy and enterprise to give her child the best life and education possible, which sometimes required them both to make painful sacrifices. Anthony  grew into a handsome, athletic young man; and then in one day, his life was ended in a freak accident. On Friday 13th.

After that, Anna had to find a way to continue with her life, which she did by immersing herself in work and building up a successful catering business in Chantilly, France. But around every corner life was waiting to pounce and try to drag her down. However, she is not one to give up, and despite much illness and continuing heartbreak, she’s still standing. Little wonder, though, that she “will always be a little afraid of Friday 13th.”

She tells her tale without artifice or cries for sympathy. The writing is matter-of-fact, as if Anna is keeping her emotions tightly under control lest they erupt and overwhelm her and her readers.

The basic Kindle version suffers from the common blight of images upsetting the formatting, but the images themselves give a fascinating look into her life and are best viewed in the Amazon app on a tablet.

I felt that the introductory chapter and her mother’s epic drive, while interesting in their own right, were superfluous and got the narrative off to a slow start, and the chronology is sometimes a little higgledy-piggledy. But don’t be put off by that, because she has an extraordinary, harrowing story to tell, demonstrating the strength of the human spirit when facing the worst that life can keep throwing at it, a story she tells in her own sincere words and way.

13